I’ve passed that icon hundreds of times as I enter the church, but this day I saw something I’d never noticed before.
It was Christ’s hands. One hand was placed on his chest in the same way I put a hand on my heart when I feel something deeply. The image hinted that Jesus feels deeply for me.
His fingers on the other hand were almost quivering as if poised mid-movement. If the painting had been a video, the next frame would be Jesus extending that hand to wave at me.
But there was something more. As I thought about how Jesus feels about me when I come to spend time with God in prayer, I felt welcomed. Jesus sees me as a close friend and reaches out to shake my hand. His hand reaches out for busy, distracted me!
We might picture Jesus across some crowded room, his left hand touching his heart as if strong emotion is compelling him to want to be noticed. “Oh! I see you! Do you see me? Oh, please, look in my direction!” His other hand is raised to be sure we notice him in the press of so many distractions. And his raised hand is pausing in the air, waiting for us to look over in his direction. And, when we do, he begins furiously waving. “Come on over! Come closer!” His image invites us the way a close friend eagerly seeks our eyes at a party.
In the church that day, I contemplated the warmth of Christ’s desire to wave to me and to want to shake my hand. As his fingers encircled my hand, I felt a rush wash through my veins.
And the icon’s hands were “holding” more fruit for me that day. Isaiah wrote about God holding us in the palm of a divine, creative hand. How many times have I heard Scripture passages about Jesus extending a hand in healing? And St. Teresa of Ávila prayed, “Christ has no hands but yours.”
I couldn’t help but look at my hands for a few moments with their lines and imperfections. I thought about the dishes they’ve done, the pots they’ve stirred, and motions used in the Sign of the Cross. I thought about gesticulations in passionate conversations. My hands provide a prolific nonverbal language of love. Jesus’ hands were doing the same.
Will I allow my hand to fly to my heart when I hear the evening news? Whose hand will I shake today? How will I connect with someone in a new or rekindled relationship?
I found new words to pray: God, you are my present. Emmanuel, you are God with us. Jesus, you are a down-to-earth God and an approachable friend.
I mimicked the icon for a moment, hoping no one in the quiet church would notice. What was I feeling passionate about in that moment? Then I imagined Jesus took my outstretched hand and held it against his chest, right where his heart was. I imagined feeling it beating out of love for me and all of creation. His other hand covered my own, offering gentle encouragement.
And then he took the hand from his chest and placed both of my hands together. I sensed a love so strong it was practically bursting out of his chest. And all I could do was repeat what he was saying: I love you. I love you. I love you.
Image (cropped): Divine Mercy painting in Divine Mercy Sanctuary in Vilnius by Eugeniusz Kazimirowski. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.